U.S. Rejection of Israeli Aid to Marines Wounded in Beirut Carnage is Anew Source of Friction
Menu JTA Search

U.S. Rejection of Israeli Aid to Marines Wounded in Beirut Carnage is Anew Source of Friction

Download PDF for this date

U.S. rejection of Israel’s offer of its hospitals to treat American servicemen wounded in the October 23 terrorist bomb attack in Beirut is developing into a new source of friction between Israel and the Reagan Administration.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens cited other examples of what he said was a U.S. policy of “distancing itself” from Israel ever since 1,200 marines were sent to Beirut in September, 1982, as part of the multinational peacekeeping force.

President Reagan, in his nationally televised address last Thursday night, gave as one of the reasons for U.S. involvement in Lebanon its “moral obligation to assure the continued existence of Israel as a nation.”

But in another part of his address, the President averred that the U.S. presence in Lebanon was required by the nation’s “global responsibilities” and that “we’re not somewhere else in the world protecting someone else’s interest. We’re there protecting our own.”

Israel has been insisting, ever since the tragic death of some 230 marines and sailors in the suicide bombing of marine headquarters at Beirut airport, that the Americans were not invited to Beirut by Israel and were not defending Israel. But Arens, addressing the Commercial and Industrial Club in Tel Aviv last Friday, complained that Washington had gone out of its way to demonstrate that the U.S. was not coordinating its strategy with Israel.

He charged that instead of working together with the Israeli and Lebanese governments against the inroads of Soviet-backed Syria, the U.S. had consistently worked to create the impression that it was supporting the Lebanese against Israel.

Arens recalled that the U.S. had refused to send the marines into Beirut airport until the last Israeli soldiers had left and even then, it did not occupy directly any position evacuated by Israeli soldiers.

“The policy was to demonstrate that the cooperation and coordination which I believe to be so important, was not there, because American policy in general was that it should not exist,” Arens said. Reagan described Israel, in his address, as a country which shares United States “democratic values” and “a formidable force an invader would have to reckon with.”


He referred to his September 1, 1982 peace initiative as an effort “to build on the Camp David accords” which led to peace “between Israel and Egypt.” He warned:

“If America were to walk away from Lebanon, what chance would there be for a negotiated settlement producing the unified, democratic Lebanon? If we turned our backs on Lebanon now, what would be the future of Israel? At stake is the fate of only the second Arab country to negotiate a major agreement with Israel, That’s another accomplishment of this past year, the May 17 accord signed by Lebanon and Israel.”

Arens, in a broadcast over the Lebanese Christian radio Friday, said Israel would not agree to any changes in the May 17 accord with Lebanon which would endanger or jeopardize Israeli security. He said the U.S. mediated agreement provided security arrangements beneficial to both Lebanon and Israel.

Arens claimed there was no doubt that Syria was responsible for the fatal attack on the marine base in Beirut and the simultaneous bomb attack on French military headquarters which took the lives of at least 53 French soldiers. According to Arens, “Only one force has the motivation to carry out such acts. They are an integral part of its ethical norms and it has the means to do it. That force is the Syrians and behind them the Soviets.”


Arens did not refer directly to the rejection of Israel’s hospital offer, but it clearly rankled Israelis. Last Thursday, Secretary of State George Shultz wrote a warm letter to Premier Yitzhak Shamir thanking both the government and voluntary bodies in Israel for their offers of assistance to the American wounded. He assured Shamir that it was good to know that such aid was available should it be needed in the future.

Shultz said in his letter that in the aftermath of last Sunday’s bombing. Israeli help was not required. He did not explain why. Some well placed sources noted that the fatalities greatly exceeded the number of wounded and had there been more American wounded, the U.S. would have flown them to Israeli hospitals.

As it was, the facilities of the U.S. Sixth Fleet offshore were adequate. The more seriously wounded were then flown to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Naples and the army hospital in West Germany. Administration spokesmen said that was in accordance with standard evacuation procedures in this part of the world.

But Israeli sources remain skeptical and there is a lingering suspicion here that political considerations were involved. A Pentagon spokesman was quoted by The New York Times of October 25 as stating that “By accepting Israeli assistance we’d have infuriated the Arabs.”


(Reports such as these have angered American Jewish leaders. In a telegram to President Reagan, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said it was “incredible and appalling” that the U.S. commander in Lebanon had “spumed” Israel’s offer of immediate medical aid to the wounded men. The Rambam Hospital in Haifa, a half hour from Beirut by air, was ready with emergency facilities, including a bum treatment center.

(Schindler’s message stated: “That this humanitarian offer, extended by a close ally and friend only minutes away from the site of the tragedy, was spumed for dubious political reasons, is both incredible and appalling. A misguided fear of irritating Arab nations who have consistently refused to join the peace process and repaid our solicitude with rejection, strikes me as an unconscionable reason to subject our wounded troops to a needlessly long and arduous trip to Germany and other distant places.”)


Meanwhile, Lawrence Eagleburger, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, will be going to Israel Tuesday for a five-day visit, the State Department announced Friday, Eagleburger, the third ranking official at the Department, will be the first high level Administration figure to make an official visit to Israel since Premier Yitzhak Shamir took office. He will meet with Shamir and Arens.

(State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said the purpose of the visit is to “continue the on going high level dialogue” between the U.S. and Israel and to review the current situation and the overall Middle East situation.)

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund